Friday, 17 October 2014


There was a deer under the bridge near Los Patios and the Northeast Baptist Hospital, just to one side of the path as you cross beneath the Connally Loop. I passed it every day. It had been a baby, the smallest I've seen. In fact I don't think I had ever before seen one so tiny.

White tailed deer are now a common sight for me. I see them as I follow the trail that runs along Salado Creek. I see them daily, pretty much. Most days I see one or two nosing around in the brush as I cross Morningstar Boardwalk, sometimes a few young females trailed by spotty babies sending me cautious backwards glances with their big, dark eyes; occasionally there will be great herds of them scattered amongst the trees as I approach the railroad that runs parallel to Wetmore. These are flood plains and so no-one is allowed to build on them, and so the deer and the other animals have a lot of space in which to roam and to breed.

I used to see red deer in Charlecote Park near where we used to live in England, but never as much more than a scattering of hillside dots some miles away. Now that I live in Texas, they are no longer such a rare sight, although I still feel the same pleasure as I always did when I see them. They have not become too familiar in that sense.

As an ethnological exercise I once worked out my day-sign in terms of the calendar and theology of pre-Hispanic central Mexico - as used by the people we now know as the Aztecs. I was Chicoce Mazatl or Six Deer in Mexican terms, this being the date which seemed to correspond with my birthday. I later found out that my calculations were off, but for a long time I believed that I was Six Deer. The deer was not generally held to be a good sign, it being associated with inconsistent or - I suppose - skittish behaviour and to some extent alcoholism, although not so much as was Tochtli, the Rabbit day-sign. Them's the breaks, I thought, consoling myself with the notion that the Mixtec culture hero Lord Eight Deer had made something of himself according to the Tilantongo Annals, and I was only two digits short. As I say, once I recalculated my version of the pre-Hispanic calendar, it turned out that Six Deer had never been my day-sign after all, so I guess it didn't matter.

Once, during a period of heavy rain, I startled a baby deer. It splashed out from the waters gathering beneath Morningstar Boardwalk, startled by my presence. It was probably a few months old and still speckled. I couldn't see it's mother anywhere near, and the thought of this young, apparently abandoned animal obliged to take shelter in the mud beneath the boardwalk was quietly horrifying; but there didn't seem like much I could do, and the rain kept coming.

The creek filled, then the sun returned and the waters quickly receded. The ecology of Texas often seems like a sped-up film, particularly with regard to these huge lakes which appear from nowhere and then become dry grassland within days. Black vultures now swarmed the boardwalk, scattering at my approach, leaving just a rib cage picked clean of all but a few scraps of fur. I felt sick.

I am reminded of this each time I pass the deer beneath the bridge at Los Patios and the Baptist Hospital. It is literally only skin and bone, a desiccated scrap of tan coloured hide with white spots attached to a sightless skull a little bigger than that of a cat. Stray bones peek from beneath the scrap, like knuckle bones or prehistoric game pieces, tiny black hooves on one of them. Seen from the corner of the eye it appears momentarily alive, having just enough substance to foster the illusion. I try to guess its age and suppose it can hardly have been even days. I wonder how it died. It's near a major highway, but there are also large flood drains on the other side of the bridge. It is hard to think about something so sad and pointless. Every single day I pass the dead baby. It is horrible beyond description.

Death is everywhere in Texas. It's presence is inevitable given the accelerated pace of life in which lakes can fill and then drain away to nothing in the space of a single scorching day. We have fish and frogs which require only tiny windows of swimming and feeding opportunity in order to complete their life cycles before returning to the mud. One cannot walk a mile of open land without encountering the bones of the dead, and some days you may even encounter something which could kill you, or at least which could kill you in the event of your being at more than two hours distance from a hospital. These things are not so common as you might believe, but they are there. Not only are we close to Mexico, but in the good old days, we were Mexico, and if Mexicans understand anything it is death and its role in defining our time on the earth.

After passing the dead baby each day for nearly two months, I can take no more. I bring it home. I collect the bones in a bag. They weigh hardly anything. I dig a hole in our garden and there I bury the baby deer, because no-one should end their days dead beneath a bridge near a flood drain, and no-one should die alone as I fear this baby most likely did. It seems like the right thing to do.

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